Thursday, March 8, 2012

Jessica Simpson, Shows Off her Baby Bump on The Cover of Elle

I first saw this cover on The View this morning.  The ladies were gushing how great it was that Simpson felt confidant enough to do this, and how far we have come since Demi Moore appeared naked and pregnant on the cover of Vanity Fair. There is no doubt that these images of pregnant naked women are indeed political.  They promote the beauty of pregnancy, and actively state that there is nothing shameful about this time in a woman's life.

Even as these images challenge the discourse surrounding motherhood, in many ways, they support a norm that is not oft discussed. The women displayed this way have largely been White, with class privilege, straight and in a long term or serious relationship.  Even though more women are either choosing to parent by themselves, or in situations where the father has abdicated responsibility, being a single mother is still very much a stigmatized identity.  This of course amplified when one is of colour, disabled, lesbian or poor.

Motherhood is not the universalizing experience that it is often framed as.  Even during pregnancy and labour and deliverym a mother's identity will greatly effect the treatment that they receive. Writing about her experience of delivering her daughter, Denne Miller had the following to say:
It didn't matter how much money I had in my bank account or how good my insurance was, or that I had a ring on my finger, or that I was smart and accomplished, or that I tried to pay my way out of substandard service. At the end of the day, to almost everyone in that hospital, I was just another black girl pushing out another black baby and neither of us deserved to be treated with dignity or respect, much less special. That human beings charged with caring for new life and the people who ushered in that miracle could traffic in this kind of reprehensible treatment of anyone, much less a new mother -- no matter her race, financial or marital status, or background -- is beyond my level of comprehension.
But it happens. A lot. And there are studies that show that my birthing experience is a lot like that of other African-American women who've had babies in hospitals.
One thing is certain, if you are a marginalized woman in any way, your pregnancy is not going to be hailed as a positive.  When I saw the above image, I could not help but think about Latina women, who are routinely accused have having anchor babies.  Their wombs are extremely stigmatized and their reproduction is certainly not framed as a positive representation of motherhood.  Their motherhood is constructed as a bid to receive access to rights, which many believe that they are not socially entitled to. There is absolutely no way that an undocumented worker would be hailed as courageous, or even beautiful in her time of pregnancy.

The wombs of women of colour are seen as threatening, specifically because they produce children of colour, who are seen as disposable humans.  Class may for some guarantee a measure of safety, or insulation, but many without that privilege quickly discover that though pregnancy is often framed as a wonderful, affirming period of a woman's life, that their pregnancy is something that opens them up to even further assault.

For some women, pregnancy is something that the state has actively sought to ensure is never possible. Native women, Black women, Latina women, and disabled women, have all been forcefully sterilized against their will.  Even in cases in which they have been allowed to give birth, these women are far more likely to have state intervention in their lives as mother.  Maria R. Palacios spoke about how after giving birth to healthy children, that child services appeared to question her on how she planned to take care of them, because she is a wheel chair user.  Certainly, this was a combination of her race and her status as a disabled woman.  The babies hadn't even left the hospital, and yet the state was ready to question her fitness to parent.

I think that there needs to be more images of pregnant women and mothers in the media, but not if it seeks to represent an idealized version of motherhood, and certainly not if it creates and cements yet another occasion to 'other' historically marginalized women. Yes, Jessica Simpson is pregnant and beautiful, but so are many other women whom society has chosen to attack.  Pregnancy and motherhood is not now, or ever will be a monolithic experience, as long as women are treated differently based in things like class, sexuality, race and ability.  Jessica Simpson, or the other White women who have chosen to display their pregnant bodies cannot represent me, or what my experience of motherhood has been.  I refuse to squee and oh and ah over an image that only seeks to infer how far I am, or rather my motherhood is from being good.